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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The News

In the wake of the Murdoch scandal, American journalists contributed a few self-congratulatory pieces claiming that such outrages could never happen here, that standards are much higher on this side of the pond.

I am not a regular consumer of U.K. News, but I've seen enough of the stuff to cry bullshit. Despite Murdoch's depredations, the better British journalists cover more stories more intelligently than do their American counterparts. And god knows I wouldn't trade the BBC for Fox News. Or even PBS.

I'd like to hear feedback on this point, especially from any readers who have lived in both countries.

If you're from the U.K., maybe you can help me understand something else. Why has the term "Portillo moment" become such a popular synonym for political humiliation?

That phrase was born out of Conservative Member of Parliament Michael Portillo's re-election defeat in 1997. From Wikipedia:
The 1997 loss, symbolising the loss of the election by the Conservative Party, has been referred to as "the Portillo moment", and in the cliché "Were you up for Portillo?" (i.e. "Were you awake/did you see Portillo's result announced on television?") Portillo himself commented, thirteen years later, that as a consequence "My name is now synonymous with eating a bucketload of shit in public."
The thing is, I've seen the video. Portillo behaved with great dignity. I had been led to believe that he radiated Nixonian rancor and bitterness on that occasion, none of which was in evidence.

Portillo was a Thatcherite who stood for a lot of things I oppose. I never would have voted for him. That said, I've read some of his writings and have heard his work on a terrific BBC radio series called Things We Forgot to Remember. By U.K. standards, Portillo is considered a conservative -- but if he tried to run for office in the United States, there might be no place for him. In most states, he'd be considered too liberal. Hell, he'd be labeled a socialist.

Jesus. Things really have gotten bad in this country. At what point does it become time to bail?
I lived in the UK for 60+ years, came to the US in 2004 (married a US guy). I'm thinking on your question, Joseph, finding it difficult to come to a clear answer. US news and views have layered so thickly over UK memories that I'm, struggling. I haven't been back since 2005.

From what memories I can dredge up, I'd say that reporting in the UK, though biased one way or t'other (e.g. Telegraph right, Guardian left) is still more fair, balanced and ADULT than here, and much less likely to take on that sickening "holier than thou" tinge so often noticed in the US. There's a lot of schoolyard sniggering and hairpulling going on in the USA. I'm not saying that kind of thing is completely absent in the UK, but it's less apparent - or used to be in my days there.

I recall Portillo - but only faintly. I'd not heard of his name being used in the way you describe. The Profumo affair, from years earlier, sticks in my mind far more clearly regarding political scandals. He dealt with his disgrace with great dignity.

The entrance of the internet into common use for news gathering, and commenting, must have changed the atmosphere a lot, I suspect - here and in the UK.

Most British conservatives, as you say,( apart from Thatcher), would be thought liberal here these days. I had a soft spot for one or two conservative PMs - Anthony Eden, Harold MacMillan, even John Major wasn't too bad. But I can't stomach ANY conservatives in the US. Well - except Jon Houseman, who seems the nearest I've seen to an old time Brit conservative. In fact if he'd go Independent I might even vote for him, given the choice of O or the rest of the Republican lineup.
I think the standard of journalism in the UK is a bit higher. I hate loads of UK commentators, but you just cant compare the two countries for narrowness of thought. American journos seem to be very earnest, in evaluating the compulsory 2 views which exist on any conceivable subject and calling it "balance". However they usually remain utterly ignorant of context or the vast range of possible views which often exist.

On the subject of Portillo, my mother lives in his old constituency and I have to admit I really enjoyed watching him eat sh*t live. He typified a particular type of smug, ladder-pulling middle class grammar school boy made good - hence the choice of Peterhouse, Cambridge. The seat he lost is very middle class and suburban, but at the time the conservative party was very clearly held at fault for enormous corruption and mismanagement. So his defeat was a measure of quite how large the swing against the Tories was. Everyone voted labour in that election, or rather we all voted against the Tories. Same as Obama I suppose.

It was even more fun that Stephen Twigg, who took his seat (and is a twit) made no secret of his homosexuality, whilst Portillo had been embarassed and secretive about his youthful trysts with other men. I guess this is the fault of Tory party selection committees.

I didnt like Portillo's politics back then (trying to make himself the champion of the Tory right wing) and I suspected him of caring less about politics than career. Karma eh?

Perhaps now that a majority of us are about to have our standard of living go down the toilet we will start to demand something other than missing blond cheerleader and unfit mother items as news.

Poor journalism it may be but the print and broadcast media deliver what we want. Why do real news if the reward is low ratings?

Think about Obama's gift to the health insurance industry and the lack of reporting on how other countries do it and the problems they encounter. It's not some conspiracy between the media and their owners but our lack of wanting to know.

We will get the equivalent of professional wrestling as news until we demand better.
Time to bail?

As an exercise I wrote my Senators and Representative inquiring if there was grant money available to emigrate to another country as they gave the equivalent in tax breaks to their big business cronies. It was worded nicer.

Anyway, I got two negative email replies and one packet of information on applying for grants in general.

Do you think if more voters did the same our congress member might take notice that we are not happy?

The Guardian alone is far beyond any US print meida in talent and integrity.
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